Category Archives: Drama

#239 – Hell is for the Heartless

(1930, US, 100 min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Buddy Kelly, Nelson Carroll, Julie Clayton.

Hard boiled pre-Code proto-noir gangster flick from first time director and future forgotten legend Hank Hogart. Stout, also forgotten leading man Buddy Kelly is ‘Mac’ McCauseland, the grinning gangster with a twinkle in his eye and blood on his hands. The perpetually nervous Nelson Carroll is ‘Hap’ Holburn, his rival for control of all the booze flowing into Detroit, the fantastically and evocatively industrial setting for the film. Not only is turf being fought for but an incandescent Julie Clayton’s Pip is the dancing woman they both love too – furious of foot on the stage and slinky seductress in the boudoir. All roads lead to a violent showdown which marks the halfway point and sees Mac tommy gun Hap’s legs off below the knees. Is this the end of Hap’s indignities? Is it toffee – when Mac sees how much more of Pip’s affections the now crippled Hap commands in his stumped legged state he is thrown into a blind rage and Hap is thrown out of the hospital window. For the law this is the last straw and Mac is gunned down himself outside his mother’s house after she – now frightened of her maniac son – shops him in to the cops herself. Mad, dark, manic stuff, it’s full of the kind of promise that Hogart sporadically fulfilled.

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#236 – Herself

(1978, Ire, 100 min) Dir Fergal Kerney. Cast John Conlon, Marina Wheeler, Conan O’Connell.

Young Jimmy’s being brought up by his father in small town Ireland, his mother having died when he was a small boy. Apart from this his childhood is pretty run of the mill – he’s bored in school, fishes in the local river, reads comics in bed by torchlight while his drunk father sleeps in front of the television. Then one morning he comes downstairs to find the Virgin Mary in his kitchen, preparing a fry for Jimmy and his father while in her full blue and white regalia and he can’t believe his eyes. She dispenses a few words of wisdom, a few of encouragement, and once the food is cooked makes off, up through the kitchen ceiling, leaving Jimmy’s dad to come in, impressed with his son for having knocked up breakfast for his hung-over father. Of course Jimmy says nothing and spends his time from then on longing for her to return. He also takes to carrying a picture of her around with him which is of course discovered by his schoolmates who take the mickey out of him for “fancying Jesus’ Mammy”. This gets back to his schoolteachers and there’s a hilarious scene in which the local priest attempts to split the notion of romance and the love of God without mentioning divinity and carnality in the same sentence. A sweet and inoffensive wee film that was nonetheless banned in its home country for some time.

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#230 – Roman by Polanski

(2010, Fr/US, 130 min) Dir Marina Zenovich. Cast Mathieu Amalric, Blake Lively, Christian Slater.

In retrospect there doesn’t seem to be a more appropriate choice to play Polanski than Amalric (who is himself a director) – the physical resemblance alone makes him a lock for the role and his performance in this, an adaptation of the 1984 autobiography, confirms the choice. His performance is also the best thing about the film which would make for a fine double bill with the same years equally uneven biopic Gainsbourg – much like that film Roman by Polanski is more a catalogue of incident than realised portrait but both are slick and entertain for their run time. While the film is also at pains to assure audiences that the incidents depicted in the film are being viewed through the director’s telling rather than a record of fact, Zenovich (also the director of the documentary Polanski: Wanted and Desired) is obviously beholden enough to her source to dwell for too long on the more insalubrious decisions in his life. Blake Lively makes for a fine Sharon Tate but  it has to be said that whoever convinced Christian Slater to play Jack Nicholson here deserves an Oscar to themselves!

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#227 – Conway Sharon

(2014, US, 94 min) Dir Jackson Harvey. Cast Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, Seth Rogan, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Turkington.

Though it mightn’t sound like much of an endorsement the pitch black comedy Conway Sharon contains undoubtedly the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career and I know, the competition’s just fierce. The rich, lazy and boorish comic plays the titular Conway Sharon, a rich, lazy and boorish trust fund child, as he mooches around his father’s huge estate while said father succumbs to the cancer that is killing him. He whiles away his time getting high, getting drunk, Googling ‘Vomit Porn’ and being rude to his father’s nurse (Buscemi), his younger brother and his wife (Rogan and Banks) and the family lawyer (Turkington). While I’ve never found Sandler’s onscreen personality very likable (even when it was apparently intended to be) it’s interesting seeing him push the more abrasive parts of his personality to this extreme, projecting an almost totally affectless blank while he violently insults all those around them. His relationship with his father isn’t elaborated upon but there are some very strange scenes between them, the most fraught with tension being at the very end when Conway, wearing nothing but shorts and a baseball cap and sweating from shooting hoops on the basketball court, a can of Pabst Blue Label in one hand, stands over his dying father, watching him. Panting, he slowly brings his face closer and closer to his unconscious fathers until his breath is so close its stirring his hair, all without the mask slipping. A very unsettling ending to a very strange film. Of course it made less than no money and of course he was straight back to the warm embrace of Blended etcetera straight after but it’s of some satisfaction to see the indie king of deadpan Jackson Harvey nudging at the mainstream just a little.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#224 – South Side Pick Up

(2012, US, 97 min) Dir John Moore. Cast Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Olivia Thirlby, James Caan.

It’s 2008 in the kind of unnamed American city you see in films where it’s raining all the time. The financial crisis is unfolding – we know this because helpfully everyone’s either listening to the radio or sitting in the same room as a television ticker-taping the slow motion stock market crash. LaBeouf is the cocky but inept Harrison who has, through some unknown connection, landed himself a job with the local mob which is headed by Caan’s Jimmy Burch and enforced by Oldman’s businesslike Caspar O’Neill. His job is to jack cars – his area, the South Side. His prey, the rich. In his downtime O’Neill takes him on rides about the neighbourhood while he ‘runs errands’ and espouses his philosophy – of course his philosophy has a certain parallel with the ethos of the banks currently under investigation. This is nothing new of course – the idea of mobsters representing the capitalist id of America is a notion as old as the hills so it’s doubly embarrassing when a film like this comes along thinking it’s had an original thought. The fact that the film has also been blessed with a title that it almost certainly intentionally evocative of the great Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street only adds to it’s shortcomings. A smart-looking but conventionally shot film with LaBeouf as good as can be expected, Oldman on old ham form and Thirlby wasted as the worrying girlfriend awaiting inevitable peril to be rescued from.

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#213 – Corporal Wojtek the Bear (Kapral Wojtek Niedźwiedź)

(1985, Pol, 95 min) Dir Ewa Wąchock. Cast Stanisław Bielski , Roman Wilhelmi, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz.

The first film from actor turned director Ewa Wąchock tells the true story of Wojtek, the Syrian bear donated to the Polish Army while they were stationed in the Middle East during World War II. They raised him, feeding his condensed milk from an old vodka bottle, getting him hooked on cigarettes and training him to salute when greeted. They became so attached hen they were being transported to Italy they officially enrolled him into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. In Italy he served at the Battle of Monte Cassino, apparently transporting ammunition for the soldiers. Along with his fellow soldiers he ended the war in Britain and was given to Edinburgh Zoo where he lived out the rest of his life. Deciding that using a real bear in the film would be too dangerous (and would go against the message of the film) and that a person in costume would be obviously fake, Wąchock embraced the artifice and instead cast a child dressed as a bear, considering that the sight of a child smoking or fearfully negotiating a war zone would convey the same emotion in her audience as a real animal would. Thankfully she lucked out by casting a young Stanisław Bielski in his first role and his future renown is writ large in the authenticity of each expression and reaction, despite being dressed as a bear. A heartfelt film about the relationship between man and beast.

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#212 – Bip

(2008, Ukr, 108 min) Dir Viktor Sadovska. Cast Viktor Nemets, Aleksey Vertkov, Boris Kamorzin.

A terrible storm has swept through the fictional Ukrainian city of Meiz and among the many catastrophe it unleashed was the releasing of many of the animals from the zoo including their celebrity Bengal tiger cub, Bip. Hearing of this an idea occurs to hard up young men Petro and Arseniy – if they can somehow trap young Bip they can sell him to Volo, local drug dealer and fan of all things tigerish. So Petro and Arseniy head off into the forests above the city on a tip-off, determined to find their prey. Bip is a comedy as best described by late film critic Harrison Bird: “there is a certain type of black comedy that I have seen from Eastern Europe and South America that is often mistaken by critics as drama, where the humour is derived from a starting point where everything is awful and getting, from there, progressively worse.” At least Bip has a happy ending of sorts. Once they have tracked down their prey, Petro and Arseniy have endured so much misfortune that they decide to shoot Bip and hope that Volo will make do with a stuffed version of the animal. They are at the border of the plains beyond the forest with the sun dipping behind the far horizon and the sky streaked with red. Petro raises his rifle and takes aim at the beast, only to be shot himself with the tranquilising dart of the zoo keeper, also on the animal’s trail. The film ends as quickly as that too – Petro is shot, collapses and the tiger cub melts into the long grass, disappearing back into the wild as the camera lifts off into the crimson sky and away.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#211 – Strip, The

(1974, US, 118 min) Dir Tom Gries. Cast Robert Duvall, Jennifer O’Neill, John Saxon.

California, October 1969. The paranoiac pall from the Tate-La Bianca killings hangs over the city. Private investigator Tom Beckett (Duvall) is hired by an old Korean War buddy to track down his missing daughter Sally. Fifteen years old. Last place seen: the Sunset Strip. Tom takes to the strip each night, pounding the streets, bugging each and every freak and drop out until he meets Cat (O’Neill). She knows Sally, recognises the picture. Saw her at a party in a house up in the hills. An abandoned mansion. It was too much of a dark scene for Cat – all kinds of sick sex rituals and power trips. People have been telling stories about this gang, roaming the streets in a fleet of Beetles, picking up ‘strays’. Word is that they were in on the killings up in the hills, they just didn’t get caught. She takes him to this house, the abandoned mansion. There are kids there with scared eyes. They tell stories that make no sense. About a ranch out in the desert, underground bunkers and mass graves. Tom and Cat investigate… A tense and moody film fantastically shot all at night by Lucien Ballard with a stand out performance from Duvall like a clenched, sweaty fist. Director Gries, incidentally, would go on to shoot the 1976 TV film of Helter Skelter which notoriously shot the Tate-La Bianca murders at the actual crime scene.

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#207 – Hedge

(1976, GB, 103 min) Dir Adrian Fisher. Cast Kevin Thirs, Emma Russell, Pete Postlethwaite.

As Kes is for kestrel, Hedge is for hedgehog and the director, the working class magic realist Adrian Fisher, wouldn’t deny it. “The producer of my second film, Tony Goldfinch,” he said in a 1986 interview, “Was a man without imagination but in possession of a very fat wallet. The only way to sell him a film was to show him one that had already made money and then say to him ‘That’s what I’m going to make.’ After that he was very hands off.” Naturally Fisher used this freedom to his own ends. Initially Kes is imitated quite faithfully in the broad strokes – brother and sister Michael and Alice are growing up on a council estate in an unnamed Northern town. It’s the summer and their parents, it seems, are fighting all the time. In their back garden one morning they find a pair of wounded hedgehog and bond while nursing them back to health in the shed. Where Fisher detours is when the hedgehogs get better and swap personalities with Michael and Alice. The film then follows the Michael and Alice hedgehogs for a wordless half hour through the back gardens and green patches of the world around before returning home to find that their parents have reunited and all is well with the world. Returning to their natural form the hedgehog snuffle off into the night once more. Fisher, despite being proud of his new film, was concerned about Goldfinch’s response to his liberal interpretation of the Kes style film. “I needn’t have worried,” he revealed, “As the lights came up at the end his cheeks were shining with tears.”

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#202 – Song for Bibi

(1978, Swe, 97 min) Dir Lasse Hallström. Cast Viveka Vong, Liv Ullmann, Molly Gold.

After the success of ABBA: The Movie and before his ascension to the height of mild-mannered Hollywood prestige, Lasse Hallström was commissioned to make this, the official Eurovision film. Then unknown and now forgotten singer-songwriter Viveka Vong plays herself, a simple country girl whose only dream is to sing her songs of love and peace to as wide a world as she can. Luckily for Vong former Eurovision champions ABBA hear her song when passing through town between gigs and before she can say Boom Bang-a-Bang she’s on national television competing to be that year’s entry. Needless to say she goes through to the main event and I don’t think that I’m spoiling anyone’s fun when I reveal that she ends the film triumphant despite the best efforts of her Irish rival Erin O’Eire (Gold). Song for Bibi was a minor hit in the day but for reasons unknown it’s been mostly forgotten and is all but erased from Eurovision history. This is a shame as it’s as much campy fun as you would expect and production’s pretty high-end too – enough money has been flung at it for Liv Ullmann to have been roped in as Vong’s voice coach, her Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist hired as cinematographer and the “Swedish Edith Head” Elsa Nöggin employed for the fantastically bonkers costumes.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms